Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Travel to Live

I ran into a French artist hiking with a monk. She said: "It is cheaper to travel than to rent an apartment in Paris, so I travel." A horde of other European backpackers have the same idea, many more than I've encountered before on the road, outside of Europe bien sur. European backpackers are a different breed from the more upscale tourists-- not as fussy or standoffish, generally speaking1. Fluent English helps: It makes them more open, confident and approachable.

More than that, it's some shared philosophical foundation that makes them gentle rebels, at least here.

My friend Vineet says, "Most westerners who stay long enough in India turn into hippies2." You confront your middle-class, and often fair-skin, privilege here pretty much every day. It's hard to stay entitled and judgmental when you are face to face with the gross unfairness of the world and the folly of your petty complaints.

I've noticed more Chinese backpackers, traveling independently instead of in supervised groups. And they are out there, not huddling to themselves but engaged with other travelers, dancing, passing the chillum, singing at some primitive dusty 19th century tea house with a 21st century karaoke machine, discussing the state of the planet. They too speak English. The English-haters of the world need to get over it. It may not be the most beautiful language in the world, but it is the most useful. It's a good language, one that easily embraces and incorporates other languages. It's masala.

1 Happily, some things are eternal. You don't want to get on line at a coffee place behind some Euro guy painstakingly explaining to the barista how to make a correct coffee.

2 Vineet also said that Feringhi backpackers always tell him they aren't coming to India to find themselves, but they almost always do.